Monday, July 25, 2016

VTA Reviews County Development Boom (Part I)

As both a transit operator and Santa Clara County's Congestion Management Agency, VTA provides cities, the county and other agencies with tools and resources for countywide transportation and land use decision-making. This series highlights local land use plans and developments to broaden dialogue about the critical link between transportation and land use in creating high-quality, sustainable communities.

VTA recently released its second “Development Review Annual Report” based on VTA’s review of proposed development and transportation projects throughout Santa Clara County.

Since the late 1990s, VTA has reviewed and commented on such projects to improve land use/transportation coordination, promote alternative travel modes, and encourage a balanced approach to addressing congestion. VTA prepares quarterly reports about our reviews.

VTA’s new “Development Review Annual Report” for 2015 documents the facts (e.g., projects reviewed and VTA comments) but also interprets the significance of the development activity over the year for VTA and local agencies.

VTA Development Review in 2015

In 2015, development activity continued at a fast pace throughout Santa Clara County. As a result VTA submitted comments on 92 project proposals through the year, and saw 34 projects we commented on approved.

Cities must send project proposals to VTA for review if the project creates substantial new traffic during the morning or evening rush hour.  VTA also provides transportation-related input and expertise on a range of projects of different scales at the request of cities.

The key questions VTA asks when reviewing a project include:
  • How do the project’s land use, location and features contribute to a more walkable, bikeable and transit-friendly transportation system?
  • How does the project interact with and affect existing transit facilities (e.g. bus, light rail, BART, Caltrain, etc)? Should any improvements be made?
  • What is the project doing to reduce car trips and create opportunities for residents and employees to choose sustainable transportation (i.e., walk, bike, transit)? Should the project do more to implement Transportation Demand Management measures, meaning strategies to reduce solo car trips such as transit passes, employee shuttles, or required vehicle trip reduction targets?
  • Will the project create new traffic congestion on major roads and freeways according to the standards of the Congestion Management Program VTA manages? If so, is it taking every feasible action to alleviate the impacts? 

Renderings showing projects and plans VTA reviewed in its 2015 Annual Development Report, including City Place Santa Clara and the Hills at VallcoDevelopment Boom Continues Throughout the County

In addition to the general increased volume of development activity throughout the County, 2015 saw the advancement of an unprecedented number of major projects and plans totaling over 1 million square feet of development or over 1,000 residential units.

The proposed City Place Santa Clara Project, at approximately 9.2 million square feet of office, retail, entertainment, hotel, and residential uses, was the largest single development project VTA has ever reviewed.

Similarly, the proposed North Gilroy Neighborhoods Urban Service Area Amendment, which would include up to 3,996 residential units, was the largest residential proposal VTA has reviewed since the 2008 recession and would potentially increase the City of Gilroy’s total housing stock by more than 25 percent. Other major plans and projects that advanced in 2015 include the Hills at Vallco in Cupertino, the Peery Park Specific Plan and Moffett Towers II development in Sunnyvale, the Dell Avenue Area Plan in Campbell, two plans for the Lawrence Caltrain station area in Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, and the North Forty Specific Plan in Los Gatos.

Renderings of projects VTA reviewed in its 2015 Annual Development report in Emerging Mixed Use Districts: Santana West and Santa Clara Square

​​Single Use Areas Get a Makeover

Another notable trend in 2015 was a number of project proposals that would diversify land uses in specific areas throughout the County. VTA welcomes this trend because an increased mix of land uses close to each other tends to allow for shorter car trips and more walking, bicycling and transit usage.

Examples include the Santana Row/Valley Fair district and Vallco Shopping Center areas, both currently dominated by retail and housing, which saw significant proposals for office development that would bring more daytime employees to these areas. Conversely, the Santa Clara Square Residential development and the Mountain View City Council’s direction to study up to 9,850 residential units in North Bayshore were two examples of proposals to add housing to employment centers.

This is the first post in a two-part series provided an overview of VTA’s Development Review Program and the projects we reviewed in 2015. The next post will discuss three key issues that VTA focused on in our comments in 2015: transit operations, transportation demand management, and pedestrian accommodations.

Where do you see examples of new growth and development in Santa Clara County? What new developments have you seen that encourage people to walk, bike, and/or take transit? Tell us in the comments.


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